Why are North Lincolnshire Council charging Scunthorpe Market traders more rent for less space to move into a former retail store?

North Lincolnshire Council unveiled plans in March of this year to move Scunthorpe Market from a purpose-built building into a former BHS store – but the council have not been completely transparent about their plans. 

Scunthorpe Market has been on the same site for the last 111 years, where it has remained a huge part of the local community. The council released an article in 2016, stating that an inspection on Scunthorpe and Ashby markets showed that ‘major improvements were needed to bring them up to current day requirements’. The article also detailed that the council were going to invest £5m into improving both markets and that it would cost £2m to meet the requirements, before modernisation. The council spent £800,000 on Ashby Market last year, which by those figures, suggests that there would be up to £4.2m left to improve Scunthorpe.

Originally, before finding the article on the council’s website, I acquired the exact same figures quoted from a Scunthorpe Telegraph article and when the leader of the council, Cllr Rob Waltham, was asked about the accuracy of those figures in April 2018, he said: “I think that might have been confused with other things that are happening in the town centre. I don’t think we have ever cited a specific amount. I think, if anything, the £5m probably more likely indicated the amount of money that probably was needed to be spent to do the work on the existing market.” 

Following the inspection, the council initially released plans for a street market, which traders and the public fought hard to put an end to. Therefore, a petition, signed by just short of 19,000 locals from all over North Lincolnshire, was submitted to the council and the idea of putting traders outside was abolished. Despite the petition, the council unveiled plans at a meeting with traders in March 2018 to move the market into an empty, former BHS building. The council have been using the 2016 inspection as the reason for the move, claiming that, after a number of options were cross-referenced, the move into the BHS building was seen as the most cost-effective option, rather than remaining in the current building.

However, although this may be the case, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act on the 4th April, to receive the report that indicated that the market requires ‘major improvements’. This information has still not been provided, despite surpassing the law binding rule which states that an FOI must be responded to within 20 days. I have sent emails to the council’s customer services and Cllr Waltham but have had no response.

Cllr Tony Ellerby, who is also a former Scunthorpe mayor, has questioned the council on a number of occasions about the report: “As an elected member of the council, I have asked to see the report and they will not show me it. I’ve been told it’s none of my business.” Cllr Ellerby made two further claims, one of which was that before Cllr Waltham took over as leader of the council in 2016, a task he was assigned to work on was Scunthorpe Market, during which time Cllr Ellerby claims he said in a meeting four years ago: “What I am telling you now, does not leave this room. I’m moving the market.” Despite this, traders received no information of these plans for their businesses until late 2016. The second claim is that the council have already spent £250,000 on getting someone in to assess the BHS building. Cllr Waltham was contacted for a response to these claims and he provided no answer.

There have been concerns highlighted about the BHS building. The first of which is the size. The council, despite being asked by traders and myself, have never once been able to answer how big the building is inside. The council have said, though, that the building is a ‘bit bigger’ than the current market and assured traders that ‘everyone would fit into the building’. The existing market is split into the larger food hall and the old hall, where several traders are housed.

When asked about how big the BHS building is, Simon Green, Commercial Executive Director at the council admitted that: “It’s bigger, if you take all the floors and the possible food and beverage area”. But when asked if it’s bigger than both halls, he said: “No, it’s bigger than the main one, but you have got to work on the fact that the existing market isn’t full. But it’s bigger than the main market.” Interestingly, Cllr Waltham, said: “What we have done is we have made a commitment on a building that’s the same size, or I think it’s probably a bit bigger than what we have got now. My gut says it’s bigger, from what I have seen of it.”

David Jenkins, whose family have owned a Butchers stall on the market since 1937, has up to 120-foot worth of counter space in the food hall, and has been left frustrated by the council’s lack of transparency: “They haven’t told us anything. They said they can get us all in there, but there is no guarantee that we will get the same size units.” When asked about this, Mr Green, said: “Mr Jenkins is a bit of an anomaly with 120-foot of counter space. We will try to accommodate him. If he, as one example of however many traders there are down there, feels as if he cannot be accommodated satisfactorily, then that’s his choice. Everybody that’s got what they’ve got at the moment, will not get what they’ve got in the new one. It physically cannot be configured like that and they know that.” 

David Jenkins has up to 120 foot worth of counter space (credit: James Murray) 

The second issue is delivery space. The current market has ample room for deliveries, with three delivery points available to traders, whereas the BHS building only has one at the moment in time. The council have initially proposed a slot system and Mr Jenkins, who has between 30-to-40 deliveries a week, spread across the day, said: “Honestly, to even suggest that, you have got to be half-witted. They have never even come down to have a look, they haven’t got the first idea.” 

Mr Green commented in response to the concerns surrounding delivery access at the BHS building: “We have never said it’s perfect and we’re looking at it as part of the refurbishment costs. Could it be altered to work for the market traders? The answer is yes. The flip question is, is it going to be the same ease and of access and ability to turn lorries at will, which they have got at the moment? The answer is probably no.” Nic Dakin, MP for Scunthorpe, said: “They are very generously supplied with delivery space at the moment. To go from generous to tight, you’re not going to like that change but to go from generous to inadequate, which is what’s being offered, is not acceptable.” 

The arrow indicates the only entrance for deliveries at the BHS building (credit: James Murray) 

There has been much speculation about the council’s plans for the market land after the move. Despite Cllr Waltham saying there were no current plans, Mr Green, said: “Ideally, the existing building will be demolished and that will create a site for a future investment. We are talking to some people but we haven’t marketed it officially yet.” There has been speculation about the land becoming available for a University Campus and Cllr Waltham admitted that the council have bid for money for that. Mr Green backed that up by saying: “North Lindsey College have been very keen to support us on this, the University of Lincoln are and the University of Hull. We are all discussing the possibility of a campus approach, which will include accommodation.” 

The council were quoted in the Scunthorpe Telegraph last month, claiming that, following workshops held with traders, “94% of attendees were positive about the plans and the proposed location”. Therefore, I took it upon myself to conduct my own survey with all the traders at the beginning of May, to see if these figures were accurate. Unfortunately, four were unable to take part at the time, but the remaining 39 did. 

Firstly, I asked the question, “are you on board with the councils plans to move into the BHS building?”. 16 out of 39 said “yes” – which is 41% – a notable difference from the council’s 94%.

Secondly, I asked the question, “do you believe traders have been treated fairly by the council?”. 32 out of 39 said “no” – which is 82%. 

Next was, “have you been told what you will be offered in the BHS building?”. 100% said “no”. When talking to Mr Jenkins about what he will be offered, he said: “If they say to me ‘This is your allocated space, it’s half what you’ve got at the moment and you’re footing the bill to move your fridges, or to buy new ones,’ then I won’t go. It’s highly unlikely that they’re going to give me the same footage, so I’m going to have to sack people anyway. It isn’t fair. They don’t seem to understand that they are messing with people’s lives.” Mr Jenkins said his fridges cost around £60,000. 

I then asked, “do you know how much the rent will be?” – 100%, again, said “no”. When the council leader met with all the traders on March 14th, to confirm that the plan was to move into the BHS building, he told traders that the rent would be going up but did not say by how much. Mr Green, said: “There are some anomaly’s in the rental at the market. There are some people who have been there a long time who, for whatever reason, are paying very low rentals compared to be people who tip up now. We have had to say because of the state of the council and because of the state of our finances, we need to make the market wash its face, in that respect.” 

After Cllr Waltham told me on 4th April, that all traders were supposed to have received a one-to-one before 29th March and he had received information that they had, I asked “did you have a one-to-one before 29th March?”. Six out of 39 said “yes”, and 33 said “no” – so just 15% had one before that date. Mr Jenkins, said: “I’ve been ringing them continually for a one-to-one and they haven’t even replied”. 

Finally, I asked, “how many days would you like to work on Scunthorpe Market?”. 11 said 1-2 days, five said 3-4, 11 said 5, and 12 said 6 days. Cllr Waltham said previously: “Some traders have said to me that they absolutely have to trade six and some people have said to me they only want to work two. Well, is this the market for you then? Is what I’d say.” He added: “There is also something fundamentally unfair about having someone in a stall working six days a week and having some bugger next door to them who is never open.” 

The council have stressed that they would like it to be at least a five-day market, but of the people who ticked “yes” to being on board with the councils plans, eight of those 16 said that they would like to work less than five days. I contacted Cllr Waltham for a response to the survey results but received no reply. 

Nic Dakin has called for the council to be more transparent with the traders and the public: “The council need to do a lot more work on getting a proper plan together. It needs to be done with people. The only people who know how to run markets are the traders, not the politicians. The politicians job is to work with them, and if there is a reason why the market needs to move, it would be better if that reason was open and transparent. It would be really useful to get figures on the table, which show the cost of the market remaining in its current place and the cost of the market moving. If we can see that moving the market to a new location saves a significant amount of money, we can have an argument as to whether that is worth the move or not.” 

Mr Green, said: “If we’re going to go out to the market, we want the best possible price for somebody to kit out the BHS building, I don’t want them knowing how much I’ve got to spend or what the alternative costs were. I want to be able to drive a hard bargain with whoever is going to refurbish it, so I don’t want to go public with any figures.” 

As it currently stands, less than half the traders are on board, the majority feel as though they have been unfairly treated, they are going to have less room for deliveries and they are going to be paying more rent for less space to work in. Are North Lincolnshire council offering traders a fair deal? You decide. 

About the Author

James Murray

James Murray

James Murray - Sports fanatic; aspiring journalist studying at London South Bank University.